05/20/05 8:00 AM ET
The draft's Shocker therapy
Wichita State's Pelfrey a budding ace
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
Three years ago, Pelfrey entered his senior year at Wichita (Kan.) Heights HS as one of the top right-handers in the 2002 draft class. He was certain he was going to get drafted high and begin his pro career immediately. His commitment to his hometown college, Wichita State, was a fallback option he didn't think he'd ever need to exercise.
But a funny thing happened on the way to becoming a star. Pelfrey didn't pitch as well as he hoped his senior year and wasn't drafted until the 15th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. So he became a member of the Shockers baseball program. Now thought of as perhaps the best power arm in this year's draft, things -- in hindsight -- have worked out pretty well.
"Going into and through my senior year, I thought I was ready, physically and mentally," Pelfrey said. "Once the season was over, I was sitting there with myself, 'I'm not ready for pro ball.' I don't regret it one bit. I think it's the best decision I've ever made in my life. I think I've grown up both physically and mentally here."
He's also put up some gaudy numbers. As a sophomore in 2004, the 6-foot-7 starter went 11-2 with a 2.18 ERA, striking out 125 in 115 1/3 innings. He went on to pitch for Team USA, where his so-so performances led some scouts to wonder exactly what he would do in his draft year. Despite the less than optimal results, Pelfrey walked away from his national team experience with renewed confidence.
"I didn't contribute to Team USA as much as I would have liked to, but it was still a great experience," Pelfrey said. "I got to see some of the best players in the country and got to play against some of the best players in the world, and I loved every bit of it.
"There wasn't one time I felt I couldn't compete with any of them. I thought I was right there with all of them. My expectations are always the best, and they never changed in any aspect over the summer."
That clearly carried over to this season. Not including his most recent start this past Thursday, Pelfrey is 11-2 with a 1.47 ERA, 121 strikeouts and 24 walks in 116 2/3 innings pitched. Opponents have managed to hit just .188 against Wichita State's Friday starter.
"He's having a heck of a year," said one NL scouting director who's seen Pelfrey throw on more than one occasion. "His performance was good, but his stuff was better than his performance.
"He needs a little refining, but he's a stuff guy. His best years are yet to come. The downhill plane, the velocity and the movement is what separates him from the rest of the pack."
His ability to learn from his mistakes also should help him. When scouts were buzzing around him in high school, he let the situation change him. His performance -- and resulting draft stock -- suffered. This time, Pelfrey sees the commotion, but is keeping his own emotions in check.
"It's really exciting from one standpoint, but you have to stay humble," Pelfrey said. "I went through the whole situation in high school and got caught up in showing the scouts -- that I had to show them a little extra -- and it was pretty much a total disaster.
"I'm taking the approach this year that I'm just going to go out on the field and do my thing and let everything else take care of itself."
He's helped himself by expanding his repertoire, refining his changeup and beginning to throw it against right-handed hitters for the first time. He's also worked to improve his breaking ball, struggling with finding the right release point early this year, but understanding that in the long-term it would help him become a more complete pitcher, which in turn would help the Shockers compete for a College World Series berth and make Pelfrey a better draft prospect simultaneously.
On the latter front, Pelfrey is trying to stay as detached as possible. His name has been mentioned all over the map in the upper third of the first round. One scout felt Pelfrey is the one arm in this class who has a chance to become a future rotation ace in the big leagues.
"I'm going to worry more about it when the time comes," Pelfrey said. "Scouts tell you all kinds of things, but really, honestly, they don't even know what's going to happen when it comes down to that day. I try not to get caught up in what they're telling me and I'm concentrating on Wichita State baseball and helping them win."
One variable that could affect where he gets drafted, regardless of talent, is his advisor. Pelfrey signed on with Scott Boras' agency in high school and has stayed with them since.
"In high school, I went through the whole situation of interviewing advisors, they were the only people who came across [strongly]," Pelfrey said. "Over the past years, they've done nothing to change that. They're always behind me."
Needless to say, not everyone's opinion is the same on the subject. While Pelfrey might project as a top-tier pitcher talent-wise, there could be as many as five teams in the top 10 who won't want to risk having to go through a protracted negotiation period, like the Angels had with Jered Weaver last year.
"The Boras thing plays into every equation," an NL scouting director said. "For a lot of clubs, it will affect where he's taken. Some clubs won't deal with him. He could tumble a bit because of that."
Pelfrey claims to be trying to ignore all of the draft politics and positioning, though he did admit that he has played out one fantasy in his mind: being taken at No. 2 by the team he followed growing up in Wichita.
"That's pretty exciting," Pelfrey said of that possibility. "I grew up watching the Royals and they have their Double-A team here in Wichita.
"It'd be really neat to be close to home. But honestly, whoever gives me the opportunity on draft day is going to be my new favorite."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.